Removing the Veil: Exposing our Creative Spirit
By Annie O'Shaughnessy (2006)
When I first came to Heron Dance six years ago, I peered at Rod’s watercolors and the writings of the people we featured in the same way I walked through a museum—with awe and gratitude but not kinship. I believed that creative people had a connection, a vibration that filled them daily with amazing ideas and inspiration. It seemed to me that some cool mix of biology, experience, and passion compelled them in a way that I would never be able to understand. I thought of myself as a very physical earth creature who found joy in discovery, not creation. Discovering pleasure, beauty, clarity, joy, and love led me from one moment to the next.
I was a teacher by trade before I came to Heron Dance. I had done some freelance reporting but was not a writer. I had no training or experience in any of the things that I would soon find myself doing: graphic design, website design, computer technology, bookkeeping, and facilitating workshops. But my love for, and belief in, Heron Dance pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to simply put one foot in front of the other—just doing the best I could every day. I was too busy learning on the fly to think about being creative. Without being aware of it, the words of the people Rod interviewed and quoted, the discussions we would have late at night, and the very experience of living with an artist led me to ask:
“What is your gift Ann?”
“What do you have to offer the world?”
“What shape is it? How will it be expressed?”
“Where will you find it?”
These questions just sat down in front of me and refused to move. The very human urge to create had taken hold. Asking these questions enough times, opening myself to the possibility that I was indeed creative, that I did have a gift, led me to a tiny slice of an answer. “Just move one step in the direction of your soul’s longing. Do not worry about where it leads. Don’t try to imagine the specific form of what you will eventually create; it will come.”
I committed to listening more closely to my soul’s direction. In truth, she had been leading my outer life for years. It was my at my soul’s insistence that I left my first marriage and eventually committed to this work at Heron Dance. But I had subconsciously made myself deaf to its deeper callings —the ones that are shy of light, the ones my ego worked hard to protect. Once I consciously chose to listen, things began to happen. Two years ago, the clear and persistent calling to do weekend workshops with Heron Dance readers appeared. Immediately my ego mind asked, “Who am I to be a workshop leader? I have no letters after my name. I have no training.” But the calling persisted and so I wrote a description of the workshops that I envisioned and posted it on our website. To my surprise, people signed up and the workshops proved to be a place where I felt for the first time a real sense of my “gift”—unnamed as it was.
After a few powerful experiences during these weekends, I become concerned that it was a gift I could lose or misuse and asked a wise healer for advice. He said, “It may feel magical. It may feel like a gift that you received from somewhere else, but in truth it isn’t. The gift is your essence revealed. It is just you—the you that is usually obscured by the personality—the ego mind. When you are completely present, when your ego relaxes its grip, it is like a veil is removed from your essence and beauty is revealed. When people are in the company of that kind of light it does seem like ‘magic’ happens.”
With those words, to become creative shifted from being a skill or quality I had to find to the exercise of revealing my essence, or of “going naked.” This quote from May Sarton is taped on my desk:
I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know all we can about each other, and we have to be willing to go naked.
My journey towards recognizing my creative self has been a slow unfolding, based on scary baby steps. Scary because I had to step out naked before what I had to offer felt solid or nameable. It was only when I surrendered to this “not-knowing” that the next step was revealed. Some people seem to be able to see the whole plan as linear and envision the result, but I was not able to access my creativity until I was able to let go of any preconceived notion of what I should find, what shape it would take, or how long it might take to find it. For me, it was not about diving deep with breath held and fierce determination in order to pull some “gift,” intact and whole, from inside of me up to the surface. The journey has been about surrendering control. To simply peer inward, notice the obstacles of ego, watch the fears and insecurities with curiosity and compassion, and apply Love to the hard stuck parts. To pray not for my muse to suddenly appear, but to have the love, patience, and faith necessary for the surrender to what is Ann.
To create from this place of presence is a gift. But it is not the whole journey. What does it mean to offer what you have to the world? I used to feel that writing was not a service, but rather a selfish act. “I should be feeding the hungry or saving forests. Instead I am sitting here at my computer typing letters that blink on a screen.” It was during a writing workshop led by Martin Prechtel that this belief dissolved. Martin told us that a creation of beauty made with love is an offering, a prayer that, in essence, helps create a balance in this world and the next. It was similar to what the folksinger Greg Brown said to me a few years earlier, “In these times we do have to pay attention. There’s the love pile and the hate pile, the way I look at it, and we’ve got to try and put as much stuff as we can in the love pile, however we can do that.” This shift in perception was what tipped me forward into a full embrace of living a creative life. Every creative act—a kiss, a garden, a letter, a loaf of bread—can be an offering in exchange for the gift of life and an act of love that has the power to shift the balance in a positive direction.
To build a life around these offerings requires an open heart, which is scary in this world. Living fully wide open means things aren’t “secure.” Going naked requires we receive with open eyes all the “lessons” that come down the pike, even the sorrowful, painful ones, with faith that each experience enriches our journeys and expands us in some important way. This path requires determination, hard work, and faith. But I have experienced that “going naked” acts as a beacon. My essence, no matter how hesitant or shy, attracts to it those things that would nourish it. Your essence revealed attracts experiences, sensations, and people that re-inspire your lagging spirit as you throw out yet another failed manuscript or piece of work or end a once vital relationship. When we allow ourselves to shine in this way, we are led—slowly but surely—to the heart of things, to our gift.
I believe real art, in whatever form it takes, is our essence revealed and expressed. And, to me, this act of courageously offering your essence to the world regardless of the reception is a powerful act of Love that benefits others.
This essay was first published in Issue 51 of the Heron Dance Journal.